poetry anthology

The Path to Kindness – Poems of Connection and Joy

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By John Zheng

The title of The Path to Kindness suggests that kindness is a goal or a destination to reach for an individual’s self-cultivation and for a society’s harmonious environment. Although dictionaries provide descriptions of the word meanings, they don’t offer a sensible opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the thingness of kindness. Therefore, the core of kindness lies in the act of doing things in kind ways. Also, kindness is not an innate virtue; it is what one learns and possesses; it is part of a person’s life; it is an act flowing like water, as in Lao Tzu’s words from Tao Te Ching: “True goodness is like water.”

This anthology is a gathering of voices worth hearing. Poets share their ideas and stories about kindness with vivid and concrete descriptions. In “Small Kindnesses,” Danusha Laméris tells that kindness can be as small as “when you walk / down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs / to let you by.” It can also be as common as a kind word, a touch, or a smile, which is, however, “a bit of beauty” planted in someone to grow, as expected in Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer’s “Kindness”:

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And years later, in that inner soil,
that beauty emerges again,
pushing aside the dead leaves,
insisting on loveliness,
a celebration of the one who planted it,
the one who perceives it, and
the fertile place where it has grown.

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Truly, small or common things can tell a lot about a person’s personality. On the other hand, Kindness can be a bittersweet ordeal before one knows its true value, as Naomi Shihab Nye says philosophically in her poem “Kindness”: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” In other words, kindness can be a poignant experience one must gain before celebrating it. And there is no shortcut or expressway to reach it.

However, it is important to realize that kindness, as a human virtue, is an idea in things that can be done in a child’s coming of age. Planting it as a seed in oneself should start early as part of a child’s education. A child who grows up to be a kind person learns to possess this virtue from his parents, so it is a like-father-like-son relay from generation to generation. In “Most Important Word,” Laura Grace Weldon regards love as the first word to learn so the child will be kind to love. She shares her story of teaching her four-year-old son how to write and speak the word love because she believes learning to love is the first step to becoming a kind person. She further describes that love remains the same “first magical word” to learn for her granddaughter who “concentrates, / lines rollicking onto the paper, / tongue curled against her lip.”

Further, to love and be kind should be an inseparable part of a person’s life, and doing kind things does not mean expecting recognition from others. Rather, it is a voluntary way to enrich one’s spiritual life, to keep “a little warmth” within the self, and to give “a little warmth” to faith and time, as related by Ted Kooser in “Filling the Candles”:

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The eight candles that stand at the altar
aren’t candles at all, but oil lamps
in the waxy white raiment of candles.
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A woman has come, through snow, alone
on Saturday, to fill them, a plastic jug
in one hand, a funnel and rag in the other.
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From a high window, soft hands of light,
in reds, blues and greens, pat snow
from the sleeves of her winter parka,
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brush flakes from her silvery hair
as she moves from wick to wick to wick,
lifting the brass caps, trickling the oil.
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The church is otherwise empty, dark
and cold, but now those eight flames burn
within her as she caps and tilts the jug
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into the light to see how much is gone,
the day, too, halfway gone, not spilled
but used, a little warmth within it.
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When people do kind things without letting others know, the community will shape itself in a better way, and human beings will wear more smiles than concerns.

There are all kinds of poetry anthologies, but The Path to Kindness is a timely pocket anthology with a single, important theme since kindness is needed for an individual, a community, and the country especially when hate crimes and racism have erupted in and smeared the cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and elsewhere, showing the absence of goodness, peace, harmony, and safety in these places dominated by fear, disorder, and murder.

Reading is a beautiful act and can make a person mindful. This anthology gathers different voices about kindness, love, and connection. Of 112 poets, 13 have two poems, 4 have three, and 1 (the editor himself) has four. It would be kind to include more poets if each has just one poem in the book.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Path-Kindness-Poems-Connection-Joy/dp/1635865336

John (Jianqing) Zheng’s publications include A Way of Looking, Conversations with Dana Gioia, and African American Haiku: Cultural Visions. He is the editor of the Journal of Ethnic American Literature. His forthcoming poetry collection is titled The Dog Years of Reeducation from Madville Publishing.

All The Songs We Sing – Edited by Lenard D. Moore

book cover
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By John Zheng
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All the Songs We Sing is an anthology of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective founded and directed by Lenard D. Moore, a noted poet and ardent community leader. It includes forty-one authors, out of the total of the Collective’s eighty-four members.
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The editor selects works with diverse themes—civil rights, social justice, culture, pride, tradition, history, and race—which provide different angles to see and ponder the human world and happenings. For example, Kim Arrington’s “When I Consider the Open Casket” reiterates the murder of Emmitt Till with a description of the mutilated corpse in the casket which shocked the whole world, while Janice W. Hodges’ “Love Poem” written for E. Ethelbert Miller is a song reflecting Black Arts aesthetic:
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dark-faced child
your history beats
like saturated love songs
dripping innocent slave boy’s blood
swirling
sorrow and sweetness
as rich as Africa’s ethos
searching
like a dying eye
for hollow trees
dried kinked and knotted
like aging lovers’ hands
buried
deep
within
nighttime
where darkness
is as beautiful
as
your
face
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A favorite song is Adrienne Christian’s “portrait of pin, or blush.” It’s like a snapshot about an elderly couple at a bistro. They are “in jeans, leather / bomber jackets, and heeled boots” and getting up from their stools to leave. The images in stanzas 2 and 3 suggest an appreciation for love:
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him behind her,
his bomber jacket zipper
a spine at her back,
him wrapping on her scarf
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the heart-shaped cookie she nibbled
the shape of her mouth,
that cookie, puffy,
with still-soft icing white and rose.
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Images function to suggest so that a reader sees or feels through the mind’s eye. The association of the heart-shaped cookie with the shape of the mouth shifts to the soft and colorful icing offers a moment to enlighten the observer to ponder in the final stanza, “I learned / the anthropology of blush.”
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This anthology includes haiku and haibun, two Japanese poetic forms, which catch moments of sensibility to nature and human nature, as exemplified by “hiking trail / sweet smell of gardenias / enters my nose” by Valeria Bullock, “near the ruins / of St. Agnes Hospital / magnolia blooms” by Sheila Smith McKoy, and “plantation tour— / I follow the swallowtail / to the slave house” by Crystal Simone Smith. It also includes sonnets. Camille T. Dungy’s “What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison” distinguishes itself as a sonnet corona, a sequence of seven linked by using the last line of the previous sonnet as the beginning line of the next and concluded with the first line of the first sonnet as the last line of the final sonnet. Dungy’s sequence sings for the beauty of spring, as the last sonnet presents:
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Daffodils are up, my God! What beauty
concerted down on us last night. And if
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder
blossoming, the symphony smashing down
hothouse walls, and into the world: music
something like the birds’ return, each morning’s
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,
colors unfurling, petals alluring.
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy
of spring. My God. This beauty. This, this
is what I’ve hoped for. All my life is here
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—
only now, in spring, can the place be named.
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In the fiction section, the catchy title of Tracie M. Feller’s “When the Stars Begin to Fall” is a line of an African American spiritual. It reads like a memoir that takes a reader back to history: a girl growing up, singing in the church, attending school, taking a walk with a young man who is part of her world, and filling Nana’s shoes to run the household. The surprise ending with the young man appearing at her door suggests an expectation that all’s well that ends well.
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In the nonfiction section, Lenard D. Moore’s “An Onslow County Tradition” brings us fond memories of eating good food, gardening, fishing, and cooking. Food is fresh and delicious with the joy of gardening. Read this description:
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I tended the garden—weeding, hilling, watering, and raking—until the waist-high and shoulder-high plants yielded their output. Always on the ground, cucumber, watermelon and cantaloupe vines sprawled all over the plot. Pole beans wrapped around the slender poles…. Like others in our African American community, we often ate from our garden. There was no talk of going to the grocery store for vegetables. After harvesting what we wanted from the garden, we sat on the front porch where we snapped or shelled beans and shucked corn with our father. All we knew was eating fresh food out of the garden.
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The celebration of food surely presents a view of family gathering and harmonious kinship. Moore reminisces that his father exemplifies himself for manhood and fatherhood: “I knew that he knew what fatherhood was all about, and he demonstrated how to be a good provider and a great father.” His father cooked delicious food for him, and now he cooks for his own child and siblings. In a sense, Moore’s piece shows a continuation of tradition through the celebration of food.
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In conclusion, All the Songs We Sing symbolizes an accomplishment of a literary mission through the collective voices of the Carolina African American writers. It’s a great addition to contemporary American literature, a tapestry woven with language, imagery, and genres, and an album of songs about “Black existence, Black memory, and all the liminal spaces in-between,” as Jaki Shelton Green says in the foreword. It’s worth reading indeed.
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John (Jianqing) Zheng published A Way of Looking and Conversations with Dana Gioia in 2021. His poetry has appeared in Hanging Loose, Mississippi Review, Poetry South, Tar River among others. He is the editor of Journal of Ethnic American Literature.

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Soul Sister Revue: A Poetry Compilation by Cynthia Manick (editor)

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By Charles Rammelkamp

Think of Cynthia Manick as an impresario, the mistress of ceremonies organizing the entertainment at this gorgeous revue, which is complete with an intermission halfway through – “When Soul and Poetry Meet, a Revue Takes Place” – in which Manick explains her inspiration behind the project, back in 2013.  Soul Sister Revue is a live show that takes place four times a year. This book represents the print analogy of the performance, with two poets from each of the twenty shows spanning the past five years represented.  While not all the poets in Soul Sister Revue are female, they are all of color and all exhibit soul.

Which of course provokes the question, What is Soul? Glad you asked. Each of the forty-one poets with work in this anthology (the forty selected plus Cynthia) has an answer. The format for each performer-on-the-page on the Revue stage is: 1) the poem; 2) an explication or elucidation of the poem in the poet’s own words; 3) a response to the question, “What Is Soul?”; 4) a response to the prompt, “Favorite soul performer or song?” and 5) a brief bio of the poet.

“Soul is what’s left after the world has worn you down,” Jeremy Michael Clark (“Dear Darkness”) writes. “Soul is duende,” Roberto Garcia (“Elegy in the Key of Life”) writes, “that inexplicable thing that connects human beings, that makes art true.” “Soul is memory, even when you don’t realize you are remembering,” Rio Cortez (“Writing Lately”) opines. Yasmin Blkhyr (“& I Mourned What I Could Not Name”) believes “Soul is the heart, the meaty heart & also the whistle of air in the lungs.” And my favorite is from Mia Kang (“Civitas”): “Soul is the thing under the thing.”

Not surprisingly, many of the poems – like Garcia’s mentioned above – address music. Freida Jones contemplates jazz in “No Maps in This Music”:
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Marion Brown rises
slender & ebony
lips wrapped around reeds
joined by Trane, Ayler and Ornette
fueled by Elvin drums
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Patricia Smith writes in “Why a Colored Girl Will Slice You If You Talk Wrong about Motown,” “We learned
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what we needed, not from our parents and their rumored
south, but from the gospel seeping through the sad gap
in Mary Well’s grin. Smokey slow-sketched pictures
of our husbands, their future skins flooded with white light,
their voices all remorse and atmospheric coo. Lil’ Stevie
squeezed his eyes shut on the soul notes, replacing his
dark with ours. Diana was the bone our mamas coveted,
the flow of slip silver they knew was buried deep beneath
their rollicking heft. Every lyric, growled or sweet from
perfect brown throats, was instruction:  Sit pert, pout, and
seamed silk. Then watch him beg….
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Joshua Bennett’s “Barber Song,” David Tomas Martinez’ “The/A Train” and others allude to or are inspired by song.  Similarly, a number of poems are inspired by or in homage to other works of art. Notably, two poems take their inspiration from Ntozake Shange’s musical, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf.  These include Peggy Robles-Alvarado’s “Praise Poem for Bronx Girls Who Make Shopping at Rainbow More than Enough” and Pamela Sneed’s “When the Rainbow is Enuf / for Ntozake Shange,” which begins:
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The internet has transformed our grieving patterns
Everything comes and goes so quickly
After death there’s a tremendous outpouring and then a few
weeks later months years later nothing
I have come now to watch all who shaped me die
Never got to write about or even register Prince
Then Aretha
Ntozake
People without whom I couldn’t have formed my voice
my identity
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Grief is a potent theme throughout this collection. So many of these poems address mourning and loss, in an elegiac tone, from R. Erica Doyle’s “Winter Solstice” and Amber Atiya’s “The Skin South of My Collar Bone Burns” (“This poem is a kind of griefwork,” she comments in her “About” section) to Chris Slaughter’s “The Father,” Keisha-Gaye Anderson’s “To My Sisters” (“…a wave of motion / when grief slowly siphons breath”) and Lynne Procope’s stunning “Thirteen Assumptions and Seven Questions.” In her response to “What Is Soul?” Procope writes, “How do black folks persist? Our bodies distort to contain so many hurts. On a cellular level, we must have evolved to hold grief.”
The “Favorite Soul performer or song?” section of each poet’s entry is incredibly charming. Aretha Franklin is cited over and over again (Manick, Evie Shockley, Jeremy Michael Clark, Lynne Procope, Maria Fernanda Chamorro, and Mia Kang all mention her, one song or another), but Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone and Otis Redding, among others, are also mentioned more than once.   Beyoncé and Prince, Billie Holliday and Al Green also have their advocates, as well as others.  In her opening poem, “I Wish the Trees Could Sway to Marvin and Aretha,” Cynthia Manick partakes of the melancholy tone that’s a direct manifestation of “soul”:
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because sometimes I forget/ soil/ can do more than hold/
wooden or metal boxes….
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You get a sense of what real fun a performance of Soul Sister Revue must be.  Poetry and soul lovers can vicariously experience the Soul Sister Revue from reading this impressive collection.

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 You can find the book here: Anthologies — Jamii Publishing

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was recently published by Future Cycle Press.
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